Well Dressings – A Beginners Guide

Hands up who’s ever heard of a Well Dressing or Well Blessing?

Lucky enough to live in a village with goodness knows how many wells (many of them hidden away), for the past few years I’ve been lending a hand in this ancient art of well dressing, helping alongside other dedicated ladies to complete these natural masterpieces on many fabulous themes to tie in with our village festival.

Now I should warn anyone thinking of having a go, it’s utterly addictive. I can’t decide if it’s the creativity, mindfulness or the need to simply support my fellow well dressers in carrying on this fabulous tradition but even on a busy working week where time is not my friend (like last week), I still have to find an hour or two to join in. (And the time simply fly’s so don’t say you haven’t been warned!)

So, what is a Well Dressing?

A Well Dressing is a mosaic picture, sat on a bed of moist clay and only using natural materials ie flower petals, coffee beans, egg shells, seeds etc. The design is often ‘pricked out’ and then the materials picked that will suit the texture/colours of the design and laid into the clay.  Some materials such as petals require a certain way of laying to ensure they stay put and withstand the weather. 

What is the history behind it?

Whilst it’s not fully known as to the exact reasons behind it, it is believed that it may have been a sacrifice to the gods for continued supply of fresh water. Later, (so I understand) adopted by the Christian Church as a way to say thanks to God (for the gift of water) and today the tradition continues with well dressings and blessings up and down the country but particularly in Derbyshire where it is thought that villagers local to Eyam (which was struck down with the plaque in 1665) used Well Dressings to give their thanks for deliverance from it.  (A long story but if you don’t know the Eyam Plaque story it’s well worth looking up!)

And here’s just a few examples of work by the fabulous Well Dressing Ladies of Hoylandswaine over the years (and yes that is a slightly younger looking me helping out on the daffodil one I did say I’d been involved for a while now!)

Do take a close look at the Bambi one and you’ll see that the butterfly has been petalled with a flower to look like it would in nature and the way it’s been petalled is slighly different in order to make it’s wings appear to be flapping. What amazing detail eh? Yes this group of well dressing ladies are soooo talented!

And our latest project July 2019…Circus theme…

So there you have it, I hope you’ve enjoyed this introduction to well dressings and hope you’ll indulge me in allowing me to say on here a quick hello to all the ladies who take part in the well dressings and tell them what superstars they. They really should be so proud and I think this is a great time to point out that they complete the project in approx just one week!.

Also I want to say a big thank you to lovely Glenys who not only helps out but allows her garage to be a creative hub, hydrating us all with tea (and yes there might be the odd biscuit and cake of course!) . Goodness knows there’s no room for another box in my garage let alone a party of well dressers!

And last but absolutely not least a HUGE thank you to the organiser and founder of the project, Elaine. She is a dear friend and a creative superstar and someone I look up to very much. I’m sure when she introduced it to the village several years ago she didn’t have a clue it would be an annual event and what time it would take up of hers but if it wasn’t for her we wouldn’t be doing it Thank You Elaine for all you do, for keeping this amazing tradition going within our village, for teaching us new things and for making our hearts and those of the village and passers by, sing with joy!

  • Kim Lowry

    23/05/2022 at 7:13 pm Reply

    These are amazing! Any tips on materials to use to create such bright colours. I work on a Well for Anthony Gell School Wirksworth. Sometimes we cheat and use coloured sand – time is of the essence!

    • moreprettythings

      04/07/2022 at 12:50 pm Reply

      Hi Kim, haha yes it is very time consuming for sure but so fabulous you do it, i’ve never known a school that does one and I think it’s a great thing to do and continue through the generations. Well done you!

      In terms of materials, egg shells are a good natural material, you can get different colours greens, blues etc in those and whilst we’ve never done this im sure you could dye them perhaps? Chrysanthemums seem to be nice and bright, hydrangeas too but you do need to keep spraying them with water to keep them fresh. Hope that helps, its often trial and error as i’m sure you’ll know.

      Hope that helps! Jo x

      ps Wirkswoth is a lovely place village, i remember it well as I did a gift wrapping workshop there some years ago.

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